Put Up a United Front – lessons in-house lawyers can learn from David Moyes’ sacking

So another week in football goes by with sackings, title swings and Champions League semi-final thrashings by the new pretenders against the former favourites. The major news story in England, despite the actual football-related dramas in the Premier League and Champions League, has, of course, been David Moyes’ sacking.

With the legal related issues to do with the inevitable closure of a difficult tenure probably done with some ease, what can in-house lawyers really learn from this story? It seems an odd idea for lawyers to take professional lessons from the failure of a football manager, but the Moyes story does give plenty of lessons for how to manage and lead vital teams within an organisation – in this case a football team in a major brand like Man Utd, in other cases, the legal department in a FTSE 100 company.

So, looking at the Moyes drama finally curtailed, here are the major lessons we suggest in-house legal teams can learn from the sacking of David Moyes:

1. Don’t change too much too quickly

One of Moyes’ first actions as Man Utd manager was to make much of Sir Alex Ferguson’s coaching staff redundant and to then bring in his own team, largely from Everton. While this was an understandable gesture in terms of setting out his stall, to completely rupture a key – if often overlooked – cog in the exceptionally successful Man Utd machine, proved too drastic a change. When performances on the pitch stalled and players began to voice discontent about the training regimes, you knew Moyes had perhaps made a mistake.

On top of this, the changes seemed typical of Moyes’ desire to bring a lot of ‘his’ men into the United side – including Fellaini in the playing staff and Phil Neville as assistant manager. Ultimately, this desire has transformed United from being champions of England to being, well, a very looking team to his old side Everton. The lessons here are definitely transferrable to the legal department in terms of hiring, firing and managing personnel – don’t change too much to an already successful team seems quite obvious in hindsight.

2. Win over the dressing room/legal team

A failure to win over key senior personnel in the squad, including Robin van Persie, Rio Ferdinand, Danny Welbeck and reportedly club legend Ryan Giggs, arguably was the ultimate cause of Moyes’ downfall. The fall-out with van Persie was reportedly linked to changing the dutchman’s training programme, which had been previously designed to accommodate the continuous battle with injuries he had faced while at Arsenal; Rio Ferdinand voiced concern about Moyes’ way of telling the players who was playing at the weekend only just before the matches rather than further in advance; Welbeck became frustrated with lack of opportunities and being played on the wings; while Giggs, a stalwart under Ferguson, was seemingly under the impression that Moyes did not use the correct tactics for a United side, making the team too cautious in comparison to their previous attacking (winning) styles. With United full of world-renowned, experienced winners, Moyes, who hadn’t won a significant trophy of note at Everton, was unable to convey genuine know-how or authority over players who were previously completely subservient and respectful of Sir Alex.

For any position of leadership, understanding what you need to do in order to best manage certain important figures in the team, and in so doing, earn the respect of the team as a whole, is ket to being able to manage and lead effectively. Moyes, failed to do this and if a GC fails to do this, he or she won’t be able to manage his/her team effectively either.

3. Understand the organisation

Part of the reason Moyes wasn’t able to earn the respect of his players was that he didn’t ‘get United’ – as various pundits have explained since his sacking. He didn’t understand that United need to play in a certain way and that cautious and impotent possession football wasn’t going to be tolerated as long as results weren’t good enough – especially in the big games in which they were repeatedly outplayed and out-thought. On top of that, Moyes never exuded the sort of authority and winning mentality that Man United typically do. In this respect, his claims that United were a long-term ‘project’ were never going to excuse short-term failings – United don’t do short-term failings.

Understanding the key principles and strategies of your organisation is an important part of being able to win over your team and being able to perform effectively within your organisation.

Overall, Moyes was neither able to portray or to create a ‘United front’ at Man Utd. The ability to manage the team and to understand what sort of skills, strategies and character traits are needed to do so effectively, is key for any position of leadership, including positions in the legal department.

About William Barns-Graham

William is the content manager and head of communications at GC Research Club. He is a professional journalist, researcher and strategist. He has worked at GC Research Club since February 2013 and has rapidly become a distinguished voice in the in-house legal blogging community, writing on Lexis Nexis and interviewing leading legal thinkers and writers, in house lawyers and CEOs within the legal tech world. He has also coordinated the GCRC Sports Panel series.
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